Showing posts from 2013

App of the Week - TripIt

Keeping track of your travel plans can be a bit of a challenge. While I was at HP I used to travel to Europe at least twice a week and it was always hard having all the right flight, hotel and car rental information with me and to hand, especially as I'm not a paper person. I wish I'd had this app back in those days!

The way Tripit works is that it keeps all your trip information in one place (in the Cloud) and also maintains a copy of your phone so it's there, even if you don't have an internet connection. Nothing special so far. BUT, what makes it so very cool is that you very rarely have to manually type in any of your travel itinerary. All you do is forward your travel or booking confirmation email to Tripit and they post it to your upcoming trip. Plus they'll upload other useful information such as a map of how to find the hotel. How cool is that?

Let me show you an example. My daughter Ally (our Office Manager) is coming over to see us in the UK for Christma…

iPhone vs Android - Navigation (Part 6)

It doesn't seem that long ago that I paid over $500 for a TomTom GPS. Now it seems that there are so many to choose from, including the Rand McNally 7720 RV GPS which we have on special right now. But what are some of the main differences, and how do the dedicated units compare to navigating with your phone? And in particular, are there any differences in navigating with an iPhone vs an Android? We're going to take a look and see if we can answer some of those questions.

Dedicated GPS Units The first and biggest difference is that these units are dedicated, so they tend to do one thing (i.e. navigate) very well. They don't ring, pop-up with things to download, receive text messages or play music, which is a good thing. The second big advantage is that they contain all of the map data pre-loaded onto the device which means that they work in the middle of nowhere where there is no cell phone signal. A phone still knows where it is because of its GPS chip, but if it can'…

Gadget of the Week - LED Emergency Triangles

We've been RV'ing for almost 7 years now, but one of the things that I've never thought about is something that could potentially avert disaster, and that's a roadside emergency triangle.

Breaking down is one thing, but breaking down at night in an RV is a whole different matter, and thankfully something I've never had to experience. Normally I try and avoid driving the RV at night, but sometimes it can't be avoided.

As soon as I saw this product it occurred to me just what a huge difference it could make to RV safety. In fact, this is probably the reason why ALL commercial vehicles are required by law to carry 3 emergency triangles (US DOT Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association Regulation 393.95) and the California DMV Recreation Vehicles and Trailers Handbook recommends that all RV's carry emergency triangles.

What makes these Emergency Triangles different is that they have 21 high-visibility LED's which can be either steady or flashing. These LED&…

Gadget of the Week - Max Burton Induction Cooktop

TechnoRV has been using the Max Burton Deluxe Induction Cooktop in our RV now for almost 2 years and WE LOVE IT! It was a gift for Tracey's birthday and we've used it everyday, twice a day since. In fact, I can't remember the last time that we used our propane cooker. Since we never use it, the cover stays on and we get loads of extra space in our kitchen.

So what do we like about the induction cooker?

Since 83% of the energy is transmitted directly into the food compared to 30 - 35% for a propane cooker, it's SUPER FAST. At our recent TechnoGeek Learning Rally, Tracey demonstrated the cook top by cooking Curried Parsnip Soup from start to finish in 20 minutes. That efficiency also means that the cooker won't heat up your RV the same as using your propane burner. This can be especially useful on very hot days and puts much less strain on your ac system meaning a cooler rig.

Previously I'd always sworn by propane as I found it much more controllable than elect…

TechnoRV Visits the Motorhome and Caravan Show

The Motorhome and Caravan Show is the UK's largest camping show with over 100,000 visitors this year. It was held in the NEC in Birmingham which is the largest exhibition complex in the UK and occupies 19 halls! Luckily they are organized side-by-side so you can easily walk from one hall to the next, as long as your feet will permit it.

As children, both Tracey and I had camped in the UK. A thoroughly miserable experience. My recollections are of wet grass, cow pats and lying on a blow-up bed in a tent watching a river run past me and wondering at what point my bed would up and float away with me on it.

It is perhaps for this reason that caravans and more recently motorhomes are becoming increasingly popular here. The campsites are still quite basic, many are simply farmers fields with no facilities, but there are more and more resort-style locations being built.

Looking back now at the show, one of the things that struck me most was how expensive everything is here compared to t…

iPhone vs Android - Music (Part 5)

Music is a passion of mine and I've tried about every gadget that came along to bring my music with me. In fact, I even modified my Parka (a popular brand of over-coat back in the 70's, see left) when I was in high school by sewing into the hood a speaker for each ear to be able to listen to the radio on the bus to school. The only problem was that I had to have my hood up to listen to music which got a bit hot in summer! I had to wait almost 10 years until Sony launched the Walkman in 1980. Do you remember the Discman (Sony's portable CD player), and then in 1997 came the first MP3 player. Then everything changed in 2001 when Apple launched the iPod putting 1,000 songs in your pocket. What a concept! I remember being so blown away when I saw my first one. More recently, streaming music services have grown rapidly in popularity. This year revenue from streaming grew by 40% and overtook downloads for the first time (streaming is where you listen to music played from the Cl…

App of the Week - Evernote

I love Evernote. It's one of those apps that once you start using you say to yourself, "What did I do before I had Evernote?" Let me explain. Most of us like to make lists, I know that I do. The problem is, what do you do with those lists, other than lose them or can't find them? Take the example of a shopping list. Imagine being able to create a shopping list on your computer. Then when you go to the shop, it's automatically there for you on your phone. Better still, it's also on your iPad, Google Tablet and your wife's Galaxy.

But it's not just shopping lists. You can save web pages to Evernote, upload documents that you've scanned with Genius scan (remember that from our last newsletter), capture a photo and tasting notes from your latest beer. The list is endless. Each note can be tagged for easy capture, and you can also access your entire note collection online. Best of all, it's free!!

Use your phone as a scanner with Genius Scan

I must confess that I have been "anti-paper" for almost 20 years now (that's a scary thought) and as such, don't even possess a filing cabinet or paper filing system, because I don't have any paper (except passports etc). Even though I have my trusty Docuscan scanner in the motorhome, that doesn't help me when I'm out-and-about.  You can imagine my delight therefore when I discovered an app that allowed me to use my phone as a scanner.

So many times in the past I'd gone into a spasm when someone gave me a copy of their favorite recipe, or wanted to save a menu from a favorite restaurant or even my beer tasting notes from a favorite brewery. What to do with it? Where to file it?

With Genius Scan, you take a photo of your document. Genius Scan will then crop it, straighten it, adjust for parallax error, enhance it to make the text better and then convert it to a PDF document (this is the standard format for saving and sharing documents, and is available…

Should you upgrade to iOS 7?

Just in case you missed it, Apple has released its latest update to the operating system for its iPhones and iPads. In fact, you may have noticed the little red dot or "1" on your Settings tab signifying that there is an update pending. Your phone may have already downloaded the 750MB update - even if you don't update it's sitting there taking up to 3Gb of space on your device (that explains where all the space has gone on Tracey's phone).

So what's to be done? Should you go ahead and just update? If so, what can you expect? Normally it's not a big deal, but this is the largest phone OS release that Apple has rolled out since launching the iPhone and to be honest, the feedback to date hasn't been great. Don't get me wrong, there are some fine new features which we'll cover later, but many people, me included, think it's too "different", has too many unnecessary changes and not enough upsides to overcome the downsides.

The problem…

Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker

For those of you who know me, you'll know that I love my music. In fact, if you've ever been at a rally early, you can always find the TechnoRV booth during setup, just follow the music. Up until now, my favorite way to play music was to stream using Pandora, with my iPhone plugged into my BlockRocker. The sound is great, but it's quite big and bulky.

Back in August it was my birthday and everyone was asking what I wanted. I'd seen a friend with a small portable bluetooth speaker called a Jawbone. It looked pretty cool, but when I read the reviews, I came across the Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker. It got 5 stars out of 316 reviews on Amazon and even though it was a little more expensive, that's what I put on my birthday list!

I Love it!!
When reviewing a new gadget I always try to think of both the positives and the negatives. In the case of the Bose SoundLink, I really can't think of any negatives. I've been using it now almost daily for the last mo…

Gadget of the Week - USB WiFi Repeater

Almost all WiFi boosters need to be plugged into a computer and require drivers to be installed, which can be quite troublesome. Not any more. This gizmo requires no drivers and lets multiple computers connect to your booster.

As long as you have one of TechnoRV's Boosters, simply plug it into the Alfa Repeater. That's all the installation that is required.

What the repeater does is take the boosted WiFi signal and then repeat it or re-broadcast it over a new local WiFi, kind of like your own WiFi hotspot.  Each of your devices then connects wirelessly to this new hotspot and can thereby talk to the boosted WiFi signal and hence the internet. It's very cool. You can even give your hotspot signal a name and password protect it to stop those pesky people from trying to use your cool gear.

Here's a diagram (okay, I know it's a house but your RV is a house, right, it just has wheels):

Those devices can be other computers (PCs or Mac's running any operating system)…

App of the Week - GasBuddy

I recently drove from Lakeland, Florida to Goshen, Indiana. On that trip, I saw gas prices vary from $3.89 in Florida to as low as $3.11 in Costco, Charleston, SC. That's a 78c / gallon difference! Just with my little RV, that's $50. So the trick that we all face is to figure out where to fill up and where to just put in the minimum to hobble through.

Enter GasBuddy. GasBuddy uses customer input to compile a US wide database of gas and diesel prices. You simply press the home button and it will display all the nearby prices in a list or on a map. What is also very useful is the ability to enter a city (e.g. your destination) and see if the gas is cheaper or more expensive there. I used this quite effectively just recently to make sure that I arrived in South Carolina empty and made sure I filled up, since IN was a lot more expensive. It works better if you have a larger tank than my piddly 70 gallons, but hey, every penny counts!

There are other gas pricing apps, and like eve…

iPhone vs Android - Getting Started (Part 1)

This series of articles is meant to provide you with a perspective on Android Smartphones from the perspective of someone who is very familiar with the iPhone. It is intended to be impartial (as best I can) and does provide some comparison of features, although is not a detailed manual or training class. For that, I would suggest attending the TechnoGeek Learning Rally or becoming a member of the Geeks on Tour to access their training videos. It might prove useful if you are considering a Droid or iPhone, or have just bought a Droid and want some help figuring it out. Good luck! By the way, I do not profess to be an expert on Droids. If I say something that is incorrect or misleading, I apologize. Let me know and I will correct it. Promise.

First DayMy first task on my new adventure was to decide which Droid to purchase. You will recall that the term Droid (short for Android) is actually the operating system that these phones run (like iOS that the iPhones run). It is the software th…

iPhone vs Android - Photos (Part 4)

I can't remember exactly when it happened, but it happened fairly quickly. I just stopped carrying my camera around. Perhaps it was a couple of years ago, it doesn't matter. But, what is important is that before that I always had my camera with me. It was just something I did. That's why I liked the small pocket size cameras with as good video as possible (I had a Sanyo which was a pistol grip, pocket size and shot HD quality when most people didn't even know what it meant).

There were a couple of things that spurred me to do this. First was the ease of sharing. No more copying photos over to the computer, organizing, editing and then uploading. One click of the button and my photos were shared with Facebook, PhotoBucket etc. Second was the fact that my phone had a built-in GPS which meant I could always see where my photo was taken - so many times before when we traveled I forgot where the photo was taken. Thirdly, it was just pure convenience. One less thing to carr…

Personal Update

There's an old Chinese saying (actually more of a curse) which says "May you live in interesting times". Just when life begins to settle down, it becomes "interesting" again. For the last 2 weeks of February and first 2 weeks in March, Tracey, Ally and I were in Mexico on a working vacation. Our friend has a house just outside Puerto Vallara and offered for us to stay there. It's a block from the beach and is wonderful. Since we were down there we decided to have some medical work done (see my article). Long story short, Tracey had a mammogram and it turns out that she has breast cancer. I must admit, it was unexpected as she's not even 50 yet and there was no lump. Following so close from the loss of our son Josh last year it tested all of our strength and then some.

The good news is that we caught it early (stage II) and it hasn't spread too far. If we hadn't gone to Mexico I really don't know what would have happened. So in a way, it was…

WiFi Boosters - A Case Study

We're staying at the Florida Grande Motor Coach Resort just outside Webster Florida. It's a very nice class-A only resort, but it doesn't have any in-park WiFi. It does have WiFi in its recreation room, but that's about 250 yards from where we're parked. I tried looking for it on my laptop and nothing. Not a peep. What's a TechnoGeek to do? Consider it a challenge of course!

The first thing to try was my range of external boosters. These are mounted on the back of my rig and I've been experimenting with different brands and configurations so this was ideal timing. Interestingly, none of them was able to see the rec-room signal which surprised me as their theoretical range is 0.5 to 1 mile. After investigation, the problem was two-fold.

First, I took a look from the roof of my RV. Instead of a clear line of sight over to the rec-room, there was a metal roofed building in the way. This is one of the biggest problems with WiFi - you need as clear a line-of-si…